By Ben Cohen
Abraham Foxman, the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, has issued a heartfelt plea to the prime minister of Bulgaria over a government-sponsored exhibition about the Holocaust that whitewashes the role of the country’s pro-Nazi politicians in telling the story of the Bulgarian heroism that saved nearly 50,000 Jews from extermination.
“As a friend, for whom Bulgaria’s courageous act holds a special place in my heart, I worry when I read reports about an exhibition, traveling through Bulgaria with your government’s support, which changes the story and gives credit where it is probably not due,” Foxman — who now heads an antisemitism study program at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust — told Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov in a letter sent on Thursday.
The exhibition in question, “The Country of the Rescued Jews,” opened on May 8 in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia. Emphasizing Bulgaria’s record as the only European country not to deport Jews from its core provinces, the exhibition highlights the role of the country’s then-monarch, Tsar Boris III.
But controversially, the exhibition credits the “Bulgarian state authorities” as a whole with “the salvation of the Jews during the Second World War.” While Tsar Boris and the leaders of the Orthodox Church took great risks to protect Jews, harsh anti-Jewish measures were nonetheless approved by the government of Prime Minister Bogdan Filov. Bulgarian authorities also deported Jewish residents from Greece and what is now Macedonia, territories occupied by Bulgaria in 1941.
Several Bulgarian Jews, among them Holocaust survivors, have strongly criticized the exhibition. Maxim Benvenisti — a member of the executive board of the “Shalom” national Jewish organization and the chairman of the Foundation of Holocaust Survivors in Bulgaria — told reporters last month that the “Bulgarian pro-Nazi government had consciously prepared and approved the antisemitic Defense of the Nation Act in Parliament (of January 1941), had taken steps to implement it, as well as doing everything possible for the implementation of the law to be heavy on Bulgarian Jews.”
“These same authorities prepared and carried out, as an ally of the German Nazis, the deportation of the Jews from the ‘new lands,’” Benvenisti said, referring to northern Greece and Macedonia.
In his letter to Borissov, Foxman observed that “Holocaust revisionism is gaining momentum in Eastern Europe: in Poland, in Hungary, and in Ukraine.”
“It would pain me deeply to see Bulgaria added to that list,” Foxman said.